GE Aviation’s F404 engine is selected to power Lockheed Martin’s unmanned tanker entry

The F404 engine has been selected by Lockheed Martin to power their bid for the MQ-25A Stingray contract, a competition to create an unmanned tanker designed to deliver robust refueling capability to support combat strike fighters and extend the range of US Navy aircraft carriers.

The aircraft carrier has limited room to store additional spares and personnel as it introduces the unmanned MQ-25 on carriers in the mid-2020s. By leveraging systems and structural components already in the ship’s inventory, like the F404 and other familiar systems, Lockheed Martin contends that the USN avoids the cost of duplicating inventory and training to store and manage spares.

“We are excited that Lockheed Martin recognized the value of the F404 engine, not only as a proven powerplant for carrier-based aircraft, but also for the benefits of the existing support infrastructure within the US Navy,” said GE Aviation’s Lynn Turbofan/Turbojet General Manager Al DiLibero.  “F404-powered aircraft have been aboard US Navy carriers for over 30 years and the MQ-25A program is a great opportunity to continue that naval aviation legacy for years to come.”

Artist rendering. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

The GE F404 engine – longstanding powerplant for carrier-based USN F/A-18 fighter jets – ensures low risk by eliminating the need to marinize a commercial engine in a short Initial Operational Capability (IOC) timeline. The GE F404 is carrier-qualified and provides adequate thrust and plenty of endurance for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, mission. The GE F404 engine drives down cost and strengthens the ability to execute with little risk.

The Lockheed Martin purpose-built MQ-25 unmanned tanker concept is optimized for probe and drogue tanking performance and carrier integration to meet the Navy’s critical refueling needs while also providing opportunity for capability growth.

“We’ve pulled together a proven set of aerospace technology providers,” said John Vinson, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® MQ-25 program manager. “Lockheed Martin is excited to partner with GE to bring the demonstrated F404 engine to our purpose-built offering.”

Lockheed Martin’s entry is one of three competing bids, including submittals from Boeing (with Rolls-Royce AE3007 engine) and General Atomics Aeronautic Systems (powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW815).

Artist rendering. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin.